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|September 7, 1999||
Campaign Trail/ Murasoli Maran
Maran appears home and dry in Madras Central
Shobha Warrier in Madras
Murasoli Maran, industries minister in the United Front government and an advocate of an open economy, is hardly a man of the masses. No fiery speeches, no handshakes, no plastic smiles as he conducts his campaign in the Madras Central constituency with assertive efficiency.
All the three constituencies in Madras city -- Central, North, South -- are strongholds of Maran's party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Even when M G Ramachandran was at the pinnacle of his popularity, Madras sent only MPs from the DMK to the Lok Sabha.
Madras central has an electorate of 12,80,221 voters and it is a straight fight between Maran and M Abdul Lateef, the AIADMK-Congress-backed Indian National League leader. Maran is sitting pretty and everyone is almost sure he will romp home victorious this time too. Some people I met felt he would be the next industries minister!
Maran starts campaigning only in the evenings. Mornings are devoted to strategic meetings at the DMK HQ. The first meeting of the day is to start at 1645 hours at the Arumbakkom bus stand. We stood there listening to songs the loudspeakers blared in praise of DMK leader K Karunanidhi and his son Stalin, and waited for Maran to arrive. I tried to strike conversations with those who did not sport a DMK badge, but most of them looked at me suspiciously and walked away, saying, "I am just passing by." While rural folk are enthusiastic about speaking to the press, urban residents see as a pest.
Mani had come to see Maran. "From here, only the DMK will win. I don't find any difference in any of the politicians. All of them look alike, speak alike and behave the same way. Have you seen any of them doing anything for us poor people? But I must admit there was no water tap in our area till recently. After the DMK came to power, they have provided us with some taps. Even the roads have become better in our area."
Suddenly, another man named Ravi asked if I was from the press. When I answered in the affirmative, he said, "Madam, please come and see the condition of the road. It is very bad. We have no taps. We have to go to the next road to collect water and they abuse us for doing so. But don't we also need water and better roads? I will take you on my cycle and you can see for yourself the condition of the road."
Mani sympathised with Ravi and said, "It is true their road is in a pitiable condition. But ours is good now." Then he whispered, "Do you know all those who stay on that road are ADMK supporters!" When MGR was alive, Mani too was an ADMK sympathiser. "There is no one like MGR. He was God. The kind of love and affection he had for the poor, nobody has. All these people want power to make themselves rich and have no concern for the poor. But the DMK now is doing something for the city."
The bored policemen suddenly became animated. Maran had arrived. The DMK leader stood atop an open jeep and without further ado, asked, "Is it necessary to have an election now? Do you know how many crores of rupees are being spent? It is all because of two ladies, Jayalalitha and Sonia Gandhi. Because of Jayalalitha, the Vajpayee government lasted only 13 months. If the Congress were to take her help, it won't even last 13 days! Do you know what she demanded from the Vajpayee government? That the corruption cases against her be withdrawn and your government, the government that you elected, the DMK government, be dismissed."
He then went on to tell his audience what a great leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee was and how he made all Indians proud of being an Indian. It is a brief, matter of fact speech.
"Are you satisfied with his speech?" I asked A Balraj who stayed nearby. "I just came to see him and listen to his speech," he said. "Will Maran win?" "The question does not arise. Nobody but a DMK candidate will win from here. This is a DMK seat and nobody can snatch it away from the DMK. I have read in the newspapers that Maran as a minister in Delhi did a lot for our state. I did not benefit, but at least somebody else in my state benefited. That's fine with me. Let him be a minister again."
"He will be a minister, and that too the industries minister," D Jayaseelan intervened to say. Jayaseelan, like many others, had stopped believing in politicians. "Vajpayee is a nice man. He looks calm and dignified." "Who will become prime minister, Vajpayee or Sonia Gandhi?" I asked both of them. "Are you a fool?" they asked. "Why?" I asked meekly.
"Do you expect the Congress to come to power? Only then does the question of Sonia Gandhi becoming prime minister arises. No, we will not accept a foreigner as prime minister. How can you have a prime minister who cannot speak a few sentences, let alone read properly from a paper?"
We could see Maran's motorcade moving slowly. At some junctions, he made speeches on the same lines. "We can have Christmas and Diwali every year, not elections. So, vote for Vajpayee and Udayasooryan and have a stable government at the Centre." There was little mention of Sonia or the Congress in his speeches. Only Vajpayee, Jayalalitha and stability.
There were no crowds on either side of the road; shopkeepers came out and looked at Maran curiously. Women peeped through windows. The children seemed to enjoy the festive atmosphere. They stood on top of the gates and waved, but the men in red and black were more interested in waving at two young beautiful women on one terrace!
Saroja, 63, stood outside her house and smiled at the DMK cavalcade. She seemed to be enjoying the campaign. After Maran's motorcade had disappeared, I spoke to her. "I enjoy elections. But can you call this campaigning? Nobody is enthusiastic about this election. In the old days, I had great fun listening to election speeches and watching them campaign vigorously. When elections come every year, how can anyone enjoy it? But I wish Maran visits his constituency at least a couple of times a year."
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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